This little book is meant to be a useful source book for all persons interested in the happy adventure of retracing the history of Rapides Parish. It is a never-ending search to which new insights are constantly being added by students turning up new sources, and all of us are students. A letter written from a pioneer to a relative in the older state he left when he set out west; a letter from a child describing some event in Rapides Parish from a new viewpoint; an archaeological discovery revealing more about people who lived here before the Europeans came; an old picture discovered that had been lost a century - all of these and many, many, more add to the accumulation of facts students have already gathered about our past.
History - the story of our past - can never be static. Rarely is there a history to end all histories, THE final history to which all may turn for the unquestioned, accurate answers to what the past was like. Instead, and much more delightfully, history is a living thing that is constantly being augmented and amplified as new insights erase old conclusions.
Therefore, the gathering of a history of Rapides Parish is a complex and unending task. The story of our past must take into account the trails of other students - the archeologist, the political scientist, geographer, anthropologist, economist, educator, sociologist, agriculturist, and historians. The Rapides Parish historian then is faced with many threads with which to weave his story that he must pick and choose. An individual effort to reconstruct Rapides Parish history is necessarily limited. Will the Rapides history trace the development of the dairy industry? the theater? religion? ethnic groups? the development of law or medicine? the changing of parish lines? education? agriculture?
In any case, the story of the past that emerges at a given time is necessarily limited in firsthand documentation of facts in surviving legal documents, records from churches and governments - in short, both formal and personal papers representing the complex tangle of human interaction at all levels since the story began. Rapides Parish Courthouse was destroyed in 1864, and details of our history preserved there are, of course, lost forever. The colonial records of the past from the post situated near the rapids, as well as records accumulated as the parish developed, have to be partially reconstructed in a variety of other ways.
Both the fires at the Rapides Courthouse during and after the Civil War and the unauthorized removal or outright theft of public records by selfish and self-seeking persons over the years has further depleted the treasure of recorded history preserved there.
The history of the entire state has never been written with benefit of even all known existing records necessary for a definitive work. Part of the reason lies in the fact that so many Louisiana documents are to be found in France and Spain, in Canada, Cuba, and Washington D.C. Only in fairly recent years have efforts been made like those to microfilm Spanish records pertaining to Louisiana undertaken by Loyola University in New Orleans, and such efforts represent not only enormous work by historians but the expenditure of large sums of money which is often hard to come by for such work. The University of Southwestern at Lafayette is likewise undertaking the microfilming of French records in Canada and Washington D.C.
In all this material lies some of the history of Rapides, much of it not yet revealed.
Too, fragments of Rapides Parish's early history lie in trunks or lost in files in myriad scattered places.
So it goes.
The possible range of interests pursued by the Rapides historian is infinite, and this little sourcebook is only meant to be a dependable companion, helpful to the student wishing to share in the never-ending adventure of tracing the story of Rapides Parish's past.
Is it, after all, worth the endless hours spent ferreting out this history? Or is it merely an indoor sport for those so inclined?
Indeed, it is worthwhile. Rapides Parish is to the state and to the nation what a cell is to the human body. There is no way to learn about the human body without first obtaining knowledge of the cell.
The story of these, our people of Rapides, the people who were born, or lived, or died here, is the story of all people. Rapides is a microcosm - a miniature replica through which the student can extend the insight and understanding gained in its study to an understanding of the nation itself and of all people.
Happy venturing in Rapides history!
Assistant Professor of History
Louisiana State University at Alexandria
Next - Indians
Back to Table of Contents